Back to IndieWire

‘The Boy and the Beast’ Dir. Mamoru Hosoda on Shared Fatherhood & Why His Films Deal with Two Worlds

'The Boy and the Beast' Dir. Mamoru Hosoda on Shared Fatherhood & Why His Films Deal with Two Worlds

Populated by fantastical creatures that stem from the inexhaustible
imagination of one of the most important figures in Japanese animation today,
the realms depicted in Mamoru Hosoda’s films might visually appear to be
removed from our world by design; however, the profoundly wise artist makes use
of their absorbing façade to insightfully address some of the most emotionally
relevant human tribulations.

Constantly setting his tales of unconventional families and
young people at a crossroads in two parallel worlds, Hosoda emphasize our longing
for significance, connection and belonging by observing them from the vantage
point of an alternate reality. For his latest epic animated saga, “The Boy and
the Beast
,” the seasoned director, who has worked in films based on classic
anime series such as Dragon Ball, Digimon, and Sailor Moon, concentrates on
fatherhood and the relationship between a boy and the multiple role models he
encounters along the unstable road from angry childhood to young manhood.

Though he is often referred to as Hayao Miyazaki’s successor
(an artist whom he does credit as one of the catalysts that sparked his love
for animation), Hosoda’s works feature they very own mythologies, thematic
concerns and stylistic particularities that differ from the signature magical
characteristics associated with Ghibli. In Hosoda’s stories the concept of
identity in relationship to parenthood is a striking force that drives the
narrative. His characters yearn to find meaning in their origin or find an
outside source that can provide a sense of community. Clearly, the clash
between the real and the extraordinary transform his impressively intimate premises
into mesmerizing animated visions, but their essence remains grounded on Hosoda’s
compassionate and inspirational view of mankind.

His most recent marvel is a martial arts adventure ruled by
its very own mythology, yet grounded on his usual universal thematic elements.
Following his mother’s death, Ren runs away from home and accidentally finds
his way into Jutengai, a kingdom inhabited by beasts. Reluctantly, young Ren is
taken in by Kumatetsu, a bear-like brute desperate to train a disciple in order
to be selected as the realm’s new leader. Despite countless arguments and numerous
rough patches, a profound bond that transcends the divide between their worlds
forms between the two lonely fighters.

Mr. Hosoda opened up about his marked interest in identities
composed of what’s on the surface and what lies beneath, the concept of shared
fatherhood, and the films that inspired him to work in this medium. 

The Boy and the Beast” is nominated for the Best Animated
Feature-Independent Annie Award and will be released theatrically in the
spring by Funimation

Carlos Aguilar: One recurrent subject
in your films is the battle between two worlds, our human world and
some sort of alternate reality, why does this interest you in particular? The
non-human worlds in your films, including that in “The Boy and the Beast,” teach
us a lot about human emotions.

Mamoru Hosoda: The
depiction of two worlds is directly connected to the idea of identity. For
example, in “Wolf Children,” the
difference in the ways Yuki and Ame live constitutes two worlds, and the
“country” and the “city” are also two different worlds. And
I’m not saying that one of these two worlds is good, and one is bad, either. On
the contrary, I think that they are both right. In the case of “Digimon,” you have analog and digital;
it’s not that either one is greater than the other, it’s that by having both
halves, you get one single world.

people tend to see someone on the surface and think that that’s who that person
is. On the other hand, there are a lot of people who think that what is on the
outside is a complete falsehood, and that their true self is what’s on the
inside; their public face is a fabrication, and what they really feel is
actually who they are. However, I think both of those approaches are mistaken.
I think the inner and outer aspects of the self together make one person. People
who are open about their own faults, especially, often want to ferret out
“inner feelings” beneath the surface and expose any falsehood, and they think
that it’s in their inner feelings that the truth lies. But I don’t think that’s
the truth. I think that this one-or-the-other-is-right way of thinking is
nonsense. I think that it takes both halves to make a single whole.

It is
for that reason that I always have two different components in my movies. I
also don’t say which one of those two is better. People have two sides, and a
person first becomes appealing when you discover both of those sides–and
worlds work exactly the same way. Shibuya works the same way. I believe it’s
having both Shibuya and the Jutengai that makes the film’s setting an
interesting one.

Another element that appears often in your
films is the relationship between parents and children. Can you talk about why
this topic is important to you as an artist?

Mamoru Hosoda: I fear
that the image of the family that is necessary to live in these times, as well
as the times to come, is in a very uncertain state. We are on the verge of
losing the traditional idea of the family, especially in Japan, where the
declining birth rate shows no signs of stopping. This is precisely why I think
we should consider with a sense of urgency what the new image of “family”
should be like, and not fall into the nostalgism that days gone by were just

In “The Boy and the
Beast” Ren has a two father figures. His biological father and Kumatetsu, what
do you think is the role of each of them in his life? Fatherhood appears to be
very important in your film.

Mamoru Hosoda: In this movie,
representing fathers, there is the “Kumatetsu and Kyuta” thread and
the “biological father and Ren” thread. Outside of those, you also
have “Hyakushubo & Tatara and Kyuta” thread, and the “Kaede
and Ren” thread running through it as well. There is also the “Iozen
and Ichirohiko” thread, the “Iozen and Jiromaru” thread, and so
on. That might even go for Kaede and her father, as well. In any case, they are
all fatherhood concepts, with different types of father-child relationships
appearing, and each one of them is slightly different.

It’s a seemingly simple
story–and this also goes for the traditional model of friction and tension
between father and child–but ours is not an age which has an ideal model for
parent-child relationships, which we then go about trying to adhere to.

Rather, I was deliberately
trying to express how possible it might be for unmarried men and adults not
blessed with biological children to become “fathers of choice.”  In an old-fashioned, traditional world,
this might not matter. But I think that it’s probably going to become terribly
relevant as time goes on. Anyone could end up like Tatara or Hyakushubo, in
that they could be put in the role of Hyakushubo yelling at Kyuta, or Tatara
holding him in tears. Maybe everyone will eventually get a role to play doing
these things that parents do with children. By doing so, they might experience
the fulfillment of being a parent. That’s why, with those things in mind, I wanted
to present one possible form for the parent-child relationship to take in the
years to come.

Also, the reason why I
wanted to present a parent and child in this film, although in a pseudo-family,
was in order to depict growth. I wanted to put them forward to show that
process. For example, if you were to ask how much Kumatetsu discernibly grew
during this movie, who can quantify that? Kyuta did not completely grow into a
young man, either. I do think, however, that the relationship between Kumatetsu
and Kyuta did change dramatically.

As to whether Kumatetsu is
the ideal father, no, he might not be the ideal. That goes for Kyuta, too—I
don’t map ideals onto the individual characters. But I did relay my ideals
through the relationship fostered by the two of them. At first, they were on
edge with each other, but in the end, the bond between them is strong enough to
become tangible and visible. I portrayed it in an interpersonal relationship,
as a type of yearning admiration.

Your films deal with
teenagers or young people coming to terms with who they are, their purpose, and their
origins. Why do you think you are so attracted to stories about people at this
particular stage in their lives?

Mamoru Hosoda: I think
of movies as depicting moments of change. Change is growth, and that change also
possesses the same dynamism that movies do. The most shining example of the
dynamism of that change is children. This is exactly why I empathize with and
wish to support those who have that kind of independence and resolve, who carve
out their own futures. It is the solidarity between those individuals that I
portray in movies, and I’d like us all to share that solidarity and head into
the future with them.

Do you think that
working on films based on anime series like “Dragon Ball,” “Sailor Moon,” or “Digimon,”
has influenced the type of stories you like to tell?

Mamoru Hosoda: I
learned a lot of things from the history and context provided by the personal
jumping-off point that Toei Doga (now Toei Animation) was for me. For example,
I learned from Shigeyasu Yamauchi, director of many “Dragon Ball” movies, what movies and being a director consisted of,
and he taught me uncompromising strength for the sake of the product.

Visually Jutengai,
the alternative world in “The Boy and the Beast,” seems more mythological
instead of futuristic like the world in “Summer Wars.” What was the visual
inspiration or style you wanted to use in this particular film for both the
world and the characters?

Mamoru Hosoda: I was
influenced by the culture and history of Japan. When I thought about untangling
our history anew from the westernization of Japan, these were the ideas that
arose from it.

Tell me about
designing the creatures in the beast world. Every single one of them blends
human and animal qualities.

Mamoru Hosoda: It
struck me that when we read picture books to children, we parents, and people
as a whole, do not appear in them very much, and that they are more constructed
to be a world of children and animals. That got me thinking that before
children live in the world of their parents and other people, they must learn
the principles, truths, and important things they need to live in the world of
animals, so I created the characters with an animal motif.

Do you animate your films yourself? What do you think is special or unique about
hand-drawn animation in comparison to films made entirely using CGI?

Mamoru Hosoda: I do
not draw any of the pictures for my movies as an animator. The reason for that
is that I am terribly lucky to have many staff members who I look up to, and
who are overflowing with talent, that work with me on each project.

As far
as CGI and hand-drawn animation, I consider them both nothing more than tools
for drawing pictures, the same as crayons or oils. Which is why, to me, the
most important thing is what it is you are drawing, and in the themes that I
depict, I think hand-drawing is the most effective.

What’s your favorite
part about the process of creating a new film? Is it writing the story or
bringing these worlds to life with through animation?

Mamoru Hosoda: The
process of producing a project is one long string of delight and anxiety, but I
think the real thrill of animation would have to be drawing the pictures.

Tell me about
creating Kumatetsu. He is a great character. He is at once funny, stubborn, but
with a big heart underneath.
Where did he come from?

Mamoru Hosoda: I
wanted to ponder, “What is the significance of a father’s existence to
children?” Digging back through the events of the past, I found that there
have been all sorts of people who had a greater effect on us than our own
fathers. Perhaps an adult that we wanted to become like, or someone with such a
strong presence that even now, they remain in our hearts—someone who might be
referred to as a “father of choice.” I think that sooner or later,
everyone has someone like this. I, too, realize that there have been many
people, both famous and unknown, who have been like that to me, and have had a
greater influence on me growing up than my own father. The
Kumatetsu-as-father-figure that we have here is not about him being someone who
takes the place of a biological father. It’s more about there being multiple
people out there in society who fill a fatherly role, and it is these people
who come together to raise a child.

I imagine men of all different types
gathering together to watch over a child. What’s more, not all of them are
necessarily going to be older adults. Like when you enter middle school, and
you have classmates who are surprisingly well-versed in western music, or know
a lot about railroads. There are fellow students who, despite being the same
age, know a lot more about the world than you do, and are nice enough to teach
you about this and that without you even having to ask them. In other words,
though classmates, they also sufficiently fulfill a fatherly role.

So I think
that for a child, there are many different patterns to what an essential father
figure is. What becomes interesting when you think about it that way is that
one may not be able to fulfill a fatherly role with one’s own child, but on the
other hand, and this goes for me as well, one might still be a “father of
choice” to someone else out there in the world. Fatherhood is something
that can be shared worldwide. Meaning that in terms of the substance of a
father’s role, perhaps we are all pseudo-fathers. It is out of that idea that Kumatestsu
came about.

Animation is a
boundless medium. What attracted you to it in the first place? Why do you think
it’s the best way for you to tell your stories?

Mamoru Hosoda: The
impetus for me to get into the world of animated movies was seeing two movies
in the summer of 1979. One of them was the Rintaro-directed “Galaxy Express 999,”  and the other was
the Hayao Miyazaki-directed “Lupin the
Third: The Castle of Cagliostro.” I want to take themes that are shared
throughout the world, express them through animation, and make movies from
them. And with the assumption that animation is a medium for children, I want
to make movies that reaffirm the future, and let them know that this world is a
world worth living in.

Why did you feel Ren had to have two names, Ren
in the human world and Kyuta in the world of beasts?

Mamoru Hosoda: I
thought it would be necessary in order to express the identity uncertainty and
tension of wondering who he really was. I wrote the story with the hope that
those children who were lost in their own lives would find some kind of answer
in this movie, and be able to share in it as well.

Ren reminds me of one
of your characters in “Wolf Children,” are there any conscious or unconscious
relationships between the characters in your films?

Mamoru Hosoda: Kyuta’s
growth is a growth of the heart, where he deals successfully with the question
of his identity, develops independence and resolve, and proactively carves out
his own life for himself, so you could say that his character has that in
common with the main characters of my other films.

After the success of “The Boy and the Beast” in
Japan, are you working on a anew film? Or are there any ideas that you
want to explore in your next project?

Mamoru Hosoda: I
really am grateful to have so many people watch, and to be given the chance to
create my next projects. I want to once again tackle the boundless
possibilities of animated movies, and I hope to be able to create something
that will leave both children and adults thinking that this world is a
sparkling, brightly shining place.

“The Boy and the World” is nominated for the Best Animated Feature-Independent Annie Award and will be released theatrically in the spring by Funimation

Sign Up: Stay on top of the latest breaking film and TV news! Sign up for our Email Newsletters here.

This Article is related to: Features and tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Get The Latest IndieWire Alerts And Newsletters Delivered Directly To Your Inbox